Karo Mariam was registered in January of 2005 and has grown to include over 200 members. Coffee serves as the main crop of the area, providing income that supports most households. Farmers care for their coffee under the deep shade of the surrounding indigenous forest. The farmers supplement the income they receive from coffee by growing maize, fruits, and vegetables for consumption and additional income. Income from farming enables farmers to send their children to school, buy clothing, and purchase additional farming supplies when possible. Most of these families live in small homes without electricity and clean water. The cooperative is located in southwest Ethiopia’s Oromia regional state, Ilubabour zone, and Bilo Nopha woreda, the home of Coffee Arabica. It is 23 km from the zonal town, Mettu, and 296km from the town of Jimma. The site is only 4 km away from the closest town of Nopha. Coffee catchment areas are found between 1,500 and 2,000m altitude. The area receives around 1,800mm annual rainfall, preventing moisture stress and creating a suitable temperature and sandy loam soil type perfect for coffee trees. The kebele spans over 1,800 ha, from which over 1,126 ha are dedicated to coffee and 60 ha are covered by forest. Karo Mariam began receiving support from TechnoServe’s Coffee Initiative in 2010. Farmers acquire technical support and business advice in order to improve coffee production and quality. With these new advancements, Karo Mariam farmers have been able to earn increased incomes and fight off poverty with sustainable business practices. TechnoServe directly works with farmers to better their market chain through their service provider, the Oromia Union, and connect them with international buyers. In 2010, Karo Mariam farmers fulfilled TechnoServe selection criteria and were able to construct and operate a wet mill. Before Karo Mariam began using a wet mill, the farmers would sell their coffee as a dry cherry in local markets at prices determined by private traders. In 2009-2010, prices reached only 3 birr/kg for red cherry and 8 birr/kg for dry cherry. These low prices made it difficult for farmers to benefit from the coffee trade. With a wet mill beginning operation in 2010, the farmers expect a 50% in their income. They built a large wet mill with local resources with a volume capacity of 270 tons. With strong leadership and committed members, their coffee received a cupping score of 85%, a CPQI of 14, and a 5 to 1 cherry to parchment ratio. Coffee plantation spans over 1,126 ha with an average family holding of 1.5 ha. In 2010, the cooperative processed 34,174 kg of red cherry. The wet mill is located at 1,639m altitude. These farmers carefully select and plant a variety of seeds that are resistant to disease. The coffee is planted under the protective shade of the natural forest and are regularly mulched, weeded, and managed by the farmers. There is no use of agrochemicals in the process, as they produce only organic Coffee Arabica. Trees are grown under shade of dense canopies, and riverbanks, gorges, and steep slopes are covered with indigenous trees and shrubs to prevent erosion. The wet mill receives water from a perennial river and the mill produces no pollution. The pulp is used to prepare compost and excess water is treated by vetiver grass and evaporated in a lagoon. The wet mill has hired an industry manager, accountant, storekeeper, guards, and daily laborers. There are 51 farmers in peasant associations, 48 male and 3 female. Cooperative membership has grown to over 200 farmers with 30 potential new members. The cooperative is estimated to have 800,000 birr in assets, including land, a building, and pulping machine.
Transparency is an important driver of efficiency and good governance at cooperatively-owned coffee wet mills and can lead to higher farm-gate prices. Coffeetransparency.com collates the most important production and financial information from participating wet mill businesses - from export revenues to incomes -and organizes this information into a two-page transparency sheet. The left-hand numbers are key indicators of production efficiency and farmer income for the most recently completed coffee season.
Adopting business practices that treat workers and suppliers ethically and fairly, protect the environment, and promote economic transparency will build the foundation for a sustainable business. Participating wet mills and supplying farmers are trained and audited on a set of sustainability standards that focus on 5 categories – social responsibility & ethics, occupational health & safety, environmental responsibility, economic transparency and production & farm management. The numbers on the left track compliance against best practices in each category from the most recently completed sustainability audit.